Moral Constructivism

I’ve been reading, recently, something that has me thinking about how morality might be most effectively approached these days. The book, which I would categorize as apocalyptic Sci Fi, tells a story of societal breakdown in the not too distant future. Those who can live in gated enclaves as a means of protection against gangs of homeless riffraff without moral qualms of any sort intent on theft, murder and mayhem. As the situation deteriorates and the enclave is over run, our protagonist, a teen age girl of significant capability, is forced to flee.

Our heroine is no ordinary teenager. She has, over her few short years, compiled a book of verse, a spiritual system, defining god in terms of the realities she faces as civilization collapses. Her notion that ‘God is change’ addresses the primary needs of the people who face disruption and displacement in this dark future world. Survival, she understands, will require flexibility.

As the story moves toward resolution, a small group has banded together and seems to have arrived at a moral understanding based on mutual needs and respect. Coexistence demands an ongoing exchange regarding moral priorities; change is the rule and openness to change must always be on the table: God is change.

The reader is left uncertain as to what the future holds for our small group, but, as I think about it, it seems to me their thinking about morality gives them a much better chance of survival than had they latched onto either a moral absolute or a relativist position.



Poetic Naturalism

I was reading the other day that what we are, when it comes right down to it (way, way down I might add) is ‘collections of vibrating quantum fields, held together in persistent patterns by feeding off of ambient free energy according to impersonal and uncaring laws of nature.’* Vibrating one-dimensional strings or sub-atomic particles organize themselves to form our senses and memories, record and qualify our experiences which are then interpreted in language containing personal pronouns which identify self and, voila, we awaken and become conscious of our individual selves.

It’s a great story, a believable narrative that answers a lot of questions about our unique natures and our reality as we conceive it. There are, of course, other narratives. On a macroscopic level our complex beings seek out and find entities beyond the physical that on occasion reach out and touch us, make us aware of the magic in a changing natural world; give us the capacity to embrace beauty, to love others than ourselves, give us courage in the face of adversity, offer a benevolent overseer to rule our very existence.

There are without a doubt other narratives as well. The question we need to ask is: which stories carry the greater validity, answers the most questions, accounts for nature as we know it. I must admit I’m often swayed by a well stated thought which leads me to embrace, for the moment, the ideas of poetic naturalism, seeing as how it is so convincingly backed up by theoretical physics.

So, for now I will embrace the beauty and complexity of a naturalistic view and set aside explanations requiring any sort of supernatural participant. At least until the next new, well-thought-out conception comes my way.

*credit to Sean Carroll for this wonderful summation.


Entropy in Five Words or Less

I’ve been trying to make sense, lately, of what exactly entropy is. Entropy is apparently a very important concept applied by physicists to help explain the Big Picture, relating to the workings of the universe in sub-atomic terms. I guess it has something to do with heat distribution: how hotter things like the sun give off heat as energy which is absorbed by cooler things in an ongoing move toward systemic equilibrium.

When the Big Bang happened, so the story goes, entropy began, and, over time, continues to increase so that atomic configurations grow ever increasingly complex and chaotic which is the point in time we are right now. But, eventually all this chaotic complexity will blend together in a homogeneous soup and everything will return to a state of equilibrium as the last star blinks out.

Which all seems somewhat understandable, but then we’re told entropy continues to increase even though everything will have been reduced to undifferentiated matter, which is pretty hard to understand. And this is not to mention the idea that entropy measures the amount of work that CAN’T be done using available energy and the whole concept can be reduced to mathematical formulae.

So, my understanding of this illusive concept remains in the shadowy grays if not quite the complete dark, and I’m left with little choice other than reducing the concept to: the measure of change over time. I know this must be terribly simplistic but I’m pretty confident it’s all I really need to know about entropy.



Story Lines

I’ve been thinking, lately, about the multiple story lines that can be thought of as true regarding one and the same experience. That is, a single experience can be explained by emergent explanations, closed systems within themselves. (That have nothing to do, I might add, with political ulterior motives.)

For instance, the object and actors in any experience are composed of basically the same kinds of atomic particles, the movements of which are a complete story or explanation of the event. One could refer to this idea as the Atomic explanation of the occurrence. Then, we can consider the experience in a biological context, how the natural order will lead the actors to predictable behaviors and interactions related to basic physical survival instincts. This, too, provides a complete story in itself.

A psychological story line would focus on relationships and feelings. How actor #1 responds to actor #2’s need for acceptance by the group and, maybe, how the groups’ social dynamic will thereby be affected. On the metaphysical plane, a supernatural agency will oversee events and will ultimately figure in the experiential outcomes. Faith and belief will be required by the actors who wish to tap into the god’s benevolence for no other means are available to affect their destinies.

I guess it’s pretty clear why conflict is so prevalent these days. It seems to be human nature to seek out those of like perspectives, exacerbating divisiveness. Thankfully there are those who can move between these closed story lines and find and promote understanding of differing views, offering hope of finding some sort of common ground. I’m thinking our very existence may depend on it.

rite of spring 3



The God Particle

I’ve been trying to make sense, lately, of what science, particle physics in particular, tells us is the underlying structure of the universe and everything in it. Apparently, there is a “core theory” which informs us that the sub-atomic building block of all matter is something referred to (simplistically according to Mr. Higgs) as the God Particle, which, as I understand it, is a really, really small item that has never actually been seen by anyone.

To further complicate things these incredibly tiny particles occur as wave lengths in vibrating fields which make up everything from the planet Jupiter to the fly currently resting on my living room window. The whole system is in a constant state of flux driven by energies like gravity and electromagnetism.

As mysterious as this all seems, and physicists freely admit there are many questions still unanswered, the underlying consensus is that Quantum Field Theory is sound as far as describing what kinds of things can’t occur in nature as we know it. Certain supernatural powers, such as telekinesis, QFT tells us, simply can’t occur because the energies manipulating the universe on a sub-atomic level aren’t strong enough to allow anyone’s mind to bend a spoon or send knives flying across the room while sitting sedately at the kitchen table.

I think, though, the jury’s still out on mind on mind occurrences like extra-sensory perception. Who’s to say all those quarks and things flying around electromagnetically in vibrating fields aren’t interconnecting Mind somehow. Anyway, I certainly find it all fascinating to think about. I look forward to our noble physicists finding more answers to the big puzzle.